NCAA-ifying Notre Dame's Joyce Center

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — As of 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Notre Dame has abdicated control of the Joyce Center, turning the keys over to the NCAA.

Good luck. Maybe the governing body of college sports can figure out where to put everybody, because Monica Cundiff sure is struggling.

Just about every broom closet in the ol’ joint has some purpose for the NCAA women’s basketball regional tournament this weekend.

Literally.

Locker rooms for four teams and three for officials; media interview rooms and workrooms for writers and photographers; rooms to accommodate ESPN; separate hospitality areas for media and NCAA officials.

Mike Brey might be able to rent out his office for the weekend.

Granted, every Irish home football game dwarfs this event in context and visibility, but this is still the most high-profile NCAA Tournament event Notre Dame has ever or will ever entertain.

It’s like having a prize fight in a sardine can.

But, man, is it going to be fun — and loud — Saturday afternoon.

Fans who want tickets but haven’t gotten them yet should call the Notre Dame ticket office at 9 a.m. Saturday. That’s when unsold tickets returned by Baylor, Kentucky and Oklahoma State will go on sale.

Seating is down from the normal 9,149 to about 8,800, because of the need to squeeze in four bands and 105 media members.

Cundiff, assistant athletic director/event management, has been on the Notre Dame athletic staff for 17 years. This project, which started in late October when Notre Dame was awarded the regional, has been a significant challenge.

“We have not hosted a regional in today’s championship format,” Cundiff said. “The regional is so much different from the first and second rounds.”

Everything from the floor, to the baskets, to the refreshments and the cups those refreshments are poured into are regulated by the NCAA.

Cundiff said the oval configuration of the Joyce Center playing surface was a challenge. All regional sites must use similar floors supplied by the NCAA (it also supplies the baskets). Since the Joyce Center is so old (it opened in 1968), the dimensions were unusual. That floor had to be custom made. Even then, it was a dickens to get installed.

The tournament floor is set on a wood platform and Masonite layer above the regular playing surface. It might not have the “ups” the normal floor has. The regular surface is mounted on a layer of springs. This new surface is on wood.

Does that mean Jewell Loyd might not get the same elevation on the alley-oop?

Cundiff said tournament floors are used for three years then sold by the manufacturer. A custom-made job may be one-and-done, though.

Once the NCAA takes over an event like this, everything is regulated.

The preferred drink of the NCAA is Powerade and Coca-Cola products. Eight pallets of the products were delivered recently for use by teams, NCAA officials and VIPs. The media’s food and drinks (gourmet, for sure) are all separate. An order of 10,000 cups makes sure the same logo will be seen anywhere near a camera’s view.

Public address announcer Greg Sims can’t be as animated and “pro-Irish” as he is during the regular season. Just this year, the NCAA is allowing individual singers, rather than school bands, for the national anthem. For the first time, the NCAA has created a generic pre-game introduction video that can be used at all sites.

A national champion — here, it will be the Notre Dame men’s soccer team — will be honored at each site.

“Watching our women’s basketball regular-season games; (there’s) all the hoopla, all the fun, the excitement for fans, in addition to the great basketball competition,” Cundiff said. “For NCAA Tournament games, there’s great competition, but all the hoopla goes away. The NCAA is trying slowly to incorporate things into the game to make it more fan friendly, but yet, keep it neutral.”

Nothing neutral about the way the bulk of the fans will be cheering Saturday. Even the NCAA couldn’t legislate that passion out of them.

Of course, then there’s Nebraska — a regional site without a team. When the fourth-seeded Cornhuskers were upset by No. 12 BYU, all the grand plans for a home-court advantage — and ticket sales, too — went right out the window.

At least the Irish lived up to their end of the bargain.

Saturday, the fans get their chance.

ALesar@SBTinfo.com | 574-235-6318 

Workers make progress Tuesday afternoon on the new basketball floor at the University of Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion that will handle the NCAA women's regional basketball tournament games this weekend in South Bend. Connor Sports Flooring manufactures the floor being installed by a local crew. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)